federally inspected slaughter figures have improved slightly and are now running at 1.9%. For the four-week period ending November 19, the average weekly kill was 613,000 head.

The possibility of changes in Chinese duty and VAT in the new year sparked off a lot of uncertainty with many Asian buyers holding off until there was a clearer indication. At the same time, other buyers put pressure on suppliers to speed up shipments in an effort to beat the predicted rise in taxes.

However, so far, the possible changes in Chinese import/export regulations are far from official and must be regarded as mere rumour until more is known on the matter.

Concerns over the foot and mouth outbreak in Brazil have quietened down despite reports that the disease had advanced into Paraguay.

Slaughter is still taking place in much of the country and hide prices rose due to demand from tanners.

A survey in Japan has indicated that only 7% of major restaurant and supermarket chains plan to offer US beef within 1-2 months of imports of American beef being resumed. However, 52% felt they would offer it within six months after they have had a chance to assess safety and price.

Another 27% said they had no plans to buy for the time being. It is unlikely, therefore, that a lifting of the ban on US beef imports will result any time soon in a rush to the market. This means that slaughter in the US will not rise significantly and we can expect no immediate improvement in the hide supply.

Tyson Foods’ lost money on their beef business during the summer months underlining the view that US beef processors are having their worst period of sustained losses in living memory.

On a more positive note, USDA are planning to revise their BSE restrictions and allow Canadian cattle of over 30 months to cross the border once more. Currently only younger cattle can be imported.

While this is not expected to occur until the middle of 2006, it would mean that more cattle will become available for slaughter with a consequent rise in hide availability.

Exports of raw hides in the four-week period to November 10 saw the top five maintain their ranking from previous months: China took pole position with 708,300, followed yet again by Korea with 529,200.

Taiwan was again in third place with 128,600, then Mexico with 118,900 and Hong Kong with 54,700. This gave China and Hong Kong a combined total of 762,700.

Japan was again in sixth place with 52,500 followed by Italy with 52,200, Thailand with 29,800, Canada 17,300 and Vietnam with 13,300.

The Dominican Republic bought 10,600, Portugal 2,800, Croatia 2,600, Argentina 2,100 and Holland 1,400.

At the same time Japan took 9,300 kip, Hong Kong 2,700 calf and Mexico 2,700 kip, Italy 2,600 kip and China 1,700 kip.

When it came to wet-blues, the Dominican Republic was in first place with 84,600. The Dominican Republic is becoming a regular buyer and was in fifth place with 23,900 last month and 47,500 the time before.

Second place was taken by Hong Kong with 82,500, Italy with 68,100 and Mexico with 17,200. Thailand bought 24,200, then Mexico 17,200, Korea 14,100, Indonesia 12,000, China with 8,000 giving China and Hong Kong a combined total of 90,500. Spain was in tenth place with 2,200, followed by India with 2,000, El Salvador 1,700 and Japan 1,200.

During the period under review, Hong Kong contracted for 2,710,100lb of wet-blue splits and China 3,242,900lb, making a joint total of 5,953,600lb. Another big buyer was Italy with 751,500lb with Mexico taking 132,000lb.